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Continuous Improvement

Gary Adams

Gary Adams

The National Cotton Council is encouraging U.S. cotton producers to continuously improve their production practices – with a goal of increasing world demand for raw cotton by enhancing their fiber’s image.

How has U.S. cotton’s environmental footprint improved in recent years?
A large and reliable supply of quality lint is required to help U.S. cotton compete for market share among other fibers, including man-made. Today, though, proof of responsible production is needed to satisfy many leading apparel brands, retailers and manufacturers. Fortunately, environmental gains by U.S. cotton producers over the past 30 years have been well established by USDA and other third parties. Consider: compared to 30 years ago, soil loss has declined 68 percent; water use (irrigation) decclined 75 percent; energy use is 31 percent less; and greenhouse gas emissions are 22 percent less. Productivity, though, has improved substantially. U.S. cotton farmers only need two-thirds of the land required 30 years ago to produce an equivalent amount of cotton. Much of this improvement can be attributed to U.S. cotton producers’ annual $50 million contribution to agricultural research.

U.S. cotton producers have made significant environmental strides over the past 30 years.

U.S. cotton producers have made significant environmental strides over the past 30 years.

What is Field to Market®?
Field to Market® – The Alliance for Sustainable Agriculture includes numerous conservation and agricultural organizations (including the National Cotton Council) as well as multiple agribusinesses and large corporate firms such as Wal-Mart. The Alliance employs supply chain strategies to define, measure and promote continuous U.S. major row crop production improvement at a national level. More information is at https://www.fieldtomarket. org/, including the Fieldprint Calculator®, an online education tool that’s helping this nation’s producers analyze their operations and compare their sustainability performance in the areas of: land use, soil conservation, soil carbon, water use, energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, water quality and biodiversity. Use of the Fieldprint Calculator® to compare an individual field’s performance to the state and national agriculture databases is providing producers with the means to improve their individual operation’s sustainability. This is not an official farm level certification effort to document sustainability. Producers still face formal accountability. For example, federal farm law requires them to file a Highly Erodible Land Conservation and Wetland Conservation Certification form to remain or become eligible for farm program benefits and crop insurance premium support.

Fieldprint Calculator® data are helping the cotton supply chain better explain how food and fiber are produced based on demonstrated sustainability and programs that promote continuous improvement. The most important objective, though, is for more yarn spinners, textile/apparel manufacturers, brands and retailers to pledge their “Commitment to Cotton” by joining the 300-plus participants in the Cotton LEADS™ program. That effort was initiated by the Australian and U.S. cotton industries to 1) raise awareness of their producers’ sustainability advances at a national level and 2) ensure cotton is produced responsibly for years to come. Among those driving this no-cost, no-certification initiative are brand and retail partners who are asked to acknowledge the program’s five core sustainability principles, best management practices and traceability in the cotton supply chain. More detailed information is at www.cottonleads.org. I encourage U.S. cotton producers to visit that site.

Gary Adams is president/chief executive officer of the National Cotton Council of America. He and other NCC leaders contribute columns on this Cotton Farming magazine page.